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The Wave

Why a Wonder: The rhythmic, undulating waves of colorful Navajo Sandstone create a mesmerizing visual experience and stunning photographic opportunities.

Where: Coyote Buttes North, in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of Arizona, USA. Geologically part of the Colorado Plateau, The Wave is located near several high profile national parks in the northern Arizona - southern Utah area: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches are all within a couple hours' drive.

You’ll find this unique landmark via a fairly challenging, scantly marked 6.5-mile out-and-back trail that traverses long stretches of slippery sandstone. However, the BLM maps are quite good, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to practice your wayfinding skills. It is also possible to hire a guide.

When: The best time to visit this remote, arid landscape is in the spring or fall when temperatures are mild and cloud cover is minimal. Although visiting is possible year round, summer can bring intense heat and monsoonal flash floods, so monitor conditions and plan accordingly.

Access to The Wave is by permit lottery only, and strictly monitored. The advanced lottery, available at, offers your choice of dates four months in advance. Area visitors (within the geofence parameters) may also enter a daily lottery at Competition for the low number of available permits is stiff, but don’t worry if your number doesn't come up this time: The Wave is just one small destination in the exceptionally rich American Southwest landscape. A highly recommended alternative in the area is White Pocket, in neighboring Coyote Buttes South, and it does not require a permit.

The best time to photograph most of The Wave is midday, when the sun is directly overhead and long shadows are absent. Capturing these swirling sandstone mounds with the Milky Way sparkling above is also an excellent strategy.

There are enough top-tier photographic opportunities in the immediate area to occupy a full day, or however much time you want to spend. Extending your hike with a reasonably short loop can take you beyond The Wave to the Boneyard, Sand Cove and the Second Wave.

Photography: The Wave is a visually stunning Jurassic-age sandstone formation. Its flowing lines of rainbow-colored, intersecting U-shaped canyons create a dizzying, hypnotic experience for visitors and abundant interesting compositions for photographers. “Leading lines” appear everywhere and create wonderful motion and depth in still images.

Consider wandering around the area and simply experiencing this incredible geological phenomenon for a bit before you pick up the camera. It can be visually overwhelming, and taking some time to orient and connect with the scene around you can help center and focus your mind. When you're ready to begin, a standard zoom lens, such as a 24-70mm, works great here, and a wide-angle is useful but not entirely necessary. A tripod should only be necessary in strong wind (again, watch the forecast) or if you plan to photograph through the twilight and evening hours.

Learn more: For details on seasonal conditions, the permit lottery system, maps and more, check out or

© Rain Hayes.

Visit with Rain Hayes here.

This post sponsored by Platypod.

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